Blistering Bullpen: Between Innings

Four games. The Cleveland Indians (15-12) lost four games to the Detroit Tigers (14-13) the entire 2016 season as they won 14 of the 18 contests between the division rivals. The calendar flipped and so did the advantage as the Tribe entered Wednesday having lost four of the first five to those same Motor City Kitties. Wednesday’s game could have put Detroit ahead of Cleveland in the AL Central standings, but the Indians leaned on a feverish Carlos Carrasco to a victory, 3-2.1

The game was important to the Indians as indicated from their decision-making. Jason Kipnis had been resting against left-handed pitchers, yet manager Terry Francona did not dare start Michael Martinez in a game he sought to win even with southpaw Matt Boyd on the mound. Francona indicated after the game that Carrasco arrived at the ballpark with a fever, yet decided to go ahead with his start anyway. When Carrasco had a shorter than normal start (6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 5 SO), Andrew Miller was called upon to pitch two innings for the first time in 2017 with Cody Allen finishing off the game.

While the Indians offense continues to struggle to find a groove against left-handed pitching, Jose Ramirez drove in two runs and scored one himself all in the fourth inning to give the Tribe just enough offense to pull off the win.

Blistering bullpen better than your bullpen getting blitzed

Cody Allen has been as dominant as we have ever seen him or any other reliever to ever don an Indians uniform. He could not locate a fastball for anything against the Tigers. Allen walked more batters in the ninth inning (2) than he had the entire 2017 season combined (1). He still managed to strike out two, and he finished the inning without allowing a hit or run. For the season, Allen has allowed one run in 11 innings pitched, while striking out 22 and only walking three. His registered FIP is negative (-0.14), which means not only is the opposition helpless against him but they cede runs to him if it were a neutral environment. Allen’s value shows that he is the best reliever in the Americal League with a fWAR (0.8) only a fraction below MLB leading reliever Kenly Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The BABIP of .500 against indicates he has been UNLUCKY thus far with batted balls. Add in a strikeout rate near 50% (48.9%) and Allen might as well be the final boss in an unbeatable video game. You know, the closer. Given the Indians penchant for Mario Coins upon runs scored, Allen should strut out to the Bowser Castle music or have it played after each strikeout.

Even with the accolades and statistics for Allen, there is an argument Miller has been almost as dominant. Miller has not allowed a run in 2017 similar to how he did not allow a run during the Indians 2016 postseason run. He had no issues locating his pitches on Wednesday and struck out four Tigers with relative ease. On most teams a reliever with a 30% strikeout to walk rate ratio, 1.22 FIP (0.00 ERA), and 0.6 fWAR would be seen as the anchor of the bullpen. As it is, Miller being fourth in MLB in win probability added (1.14) for a relief pitcher is only good for second place because Allen is second on that list (1.20).2

Another crazy component of Miller’s start is there is more upside to be had. He is only striking out hitters at a 37% rate, which is great for most anyone else but down from the over 40% numbers he has regularly put up the past few seasons.

Miller did not only strike out four of the six batters he faced. He also showed off his speed and glove work when he hustled to first base to demonstrate impeccable defensive form when he used every inch of his lankiness to reel in a low throw for the out at first base.

Cleveland’s bullpen on a whole is fantastic with plenty of other good arms worthy of having time on the mound. The separation from the rest of MLB though is due to the tag team champions of relief pitching in Miller and Allen. Picking a favorite or better option between the two of them is almost silly as both are so amazingly good every time they see the mound. If you had to choose though, it appears Miller is tossing his support to Allen.

  1. In a similar arc, the Minnesota Twins were 14-34 by the end of May 2016. They are currently tied with the Indians in first place at 14-11. Hat-tip on that trivia to Baseball Prospectus editor-in-chief Aaron Gleeman. []
  2. Win probability added is basically adding up each plate appearance to see how much it helped or hurt the chances of a team winning that game. []